'Most well-rounded job'

Jennifer Tuttle has a unique job. She helps heal wounds and broken hearts while enjoying time on playgrounds and coaching Girls on the Run. Tuttle is a school nurse.

"I get to be a mother, a playmate and a mentor," Tuttle said. "It's the most well-rounded job in nursing."

Tuttle, 41, has been employed as a school nurse for five years and currently cares for students and staff at South Newton and Thornton elementary schools. On Feb. 23, Tuttle's career became more rewarding as she passed the four-hour exam to become a national certified school nurse.

"My turn came up," she said. "I was terrified. I asked God for peace and to not worry."

With her prayer and hard work, she passed the 250-question exam.

"The goal is to have all school nurses certified," said Rhonda Stikeleather, school nurse program manager and a national certified school nurse.

In order to take the national certification exam, current nurses must have a bachelor's degree in nursing and suggested two years of school nursing experience. Once a school nurse receives certification, the individual has to renew the license every five years. The renewal includes 75 units of continuing education hours and a $325 fee, or the nurse has to take the exam again.

"It's similar to what teachers go through," Stikeleather said, adding the similarity isn't in the preparation portion, but in the meaning of the certificate. "You are an 'expert' in your field. It's really special to get it."

The multiple-choice exam is one that nursing students prepare for while earning a bachelor's degree. Stikeleather said there are four choices to one question with two good answers. However, only one answer is acceptable.

"You have to pick the best one," Stikeleather said. "That's what makes it hard. You have to really have that mindset and know your stuff to pick the correct answer."

In addition to Tuttle, two other area nurses passed the exam this year.

They include Jennifer Sharpe at Catawba Elementary School and Margaret Sides at St. Stephens High School and Arndt Middle School. Stikeleather said the program tries to have four nurses certified each year.

Catawba County has 24 school nurses and 12 are nationally certified.

For Tuttle, being a public health nurse is something she's always wanted.

"The positions are hard to come by," Tuttle said, adding she saw the advertisement for the public health nurse on its last day of publication five years ago. "I absolutely adore being a school nurse."

Getting her national certification makes Tuttle want to stay a school nurse for the rest of her career.

"(School nurses) have a bond with students and staff," she said, "because you are able to spend time with them. Families trust you and that means a lot because you are able to help them."

As a school nurse, Tuttle said many times it's not just the students or staff that need health-care assistance.

"Several parents who have lost their jobs, I am able to provide them with appointments at (various agencies) to get them treatment and other resources they aren't aware of," Tuttle said. "I'm glad they trust me enough to come ask. Those are the days I can go home and feel good (because I helped)."

Some days, Tuttle isn't only helping the sick, she's assisting a child's favorite stuffed animal. She recalled a third-grader who came to her because the child's stuffed monkey had a tear in it. Tuttle said she sewed the rip and gave the child instructions on caring for the monkey.

"I set up a complete surgery kit," Tuttle said, laughing. "I told her he couldn't have recess and needed to rest. (The monkey) survived and was good as new."

Dealing with the family, whether it's a parent or a stuffed animal, is part of a child's health, Stikeleather said.

"You have to be able to look at the family as a whole," Stikeleather said, "not just the child's illness. It's a very detailed-oriented job that's different every day. ... You have to be able to reason it out and think on your feet."

Stikeleather said Catawba County's school nurses will continue to become the best they can for the community.

"North Carolina has the highest percentage (of national certified) nurses of any state in our country," she said. "That's a very good standard and says a lot about North Carolina and how our state organization values and pushes state certification."

12 national certified school nurses in Catawba County

Britt Abernathy — Lyle Creek Elementary
Jennifer Sharpe — Catawba Elementary
Jennifer Lindsay — Hickory High
Marianne Vogel — Fred T. Foard High and Jacobs Fork Middle
Ella DaVila-Hernandez — St. Stephens Elementary and Webb A. Murray Elementary
Amy Phillips — Startown Elementary and Maiden Middle
Debra Bryant — Blackburn Elementary and Mt. View Elementary
Sandy Wilson — Clyde Campbell Elementary and Snow Creek Elementary
Margaret Sides — St. Stephens High and Arndt Middle
Jennifer Tuttle — South Newton Elementary and Thornton Elementary
Virginia Beisler — Grandview Middle and Northview Middle
Rhonda Stikeleather — school nurses program manager at Public Health